Every day RSPCA Tasmania receives a call from someone who is homeless, or is about to be homeless, with their pet.
- Tasmania has historically low rental vacancies and only one in eight landlords allows pets
- The RSPCA says Tasmania is not recognising that animal welfare is about human health as well
- After years of lobbying for law reform, the government says it is willing to review the situation “straight away”
The situation has been bad for several years, but with the cost of rent rising, and vacancy rates at a record low, more animals are also becoming victims of the state’s housing crisis.
“We are seeing a huge increase in people under housing stress — people who are between homes or can’t get a rental home with their pets,” RSPCA Tasmania CEO Jan Davis said.
“People are finding it almost impossible to secure a rental at the best of times, but it’s certainly impossible with animals”.
Hobart resident Chris Bailey is one of those people.
His lease will end in two weeks, and when that happens the 34-year-old and his nine-year-old cat Scrambleshanks will be homeless.
“It’s tough trying to find something that is suitable, affordable, and close to where I work — and on top of that I have a cat,” Mr Bailey said.
Mr Bailey has casual employment and is currently building a camper trailer capable of being towed behind his bike.
He’s also looking at the possibility of buying a houseboat to give him and his cat alternative accommodation options.
“They (pets) bring colour to the world, I think, and I couldn’t imagine a situation where I wasn’t around her,” he said.
Only one in eight rentals that are currently advertised in the Greater Hobart area will consider people with pets, and tenants need landlord approval before moving in if they want to keep an animal.
“You need permission to keep any type of pet, whether it’s a cat, a goldfish, or a hermit crab,” Tenants Union of Tasmania solicitor Alexander Bomford said.
“The landlord can refuse it without having to give any additional reason, except if it’s a guide dog or service animal.”
Tasmanian laws lagging behind
The Tasmanian government has been asked by several groups to bring the 1997 Residential Tenancy Act in line with other states such as Victoria and Queensland, and increase renters’ right to have pets.
“In Queensland and Victoria, landlords can only refuse a request to have a pet if it’s reasonable … for example, if the strata title doesn’t allow it or it’s a horse in a one-bedroom apartment,” Mr Bomford said.
“Pets are our family and we expect them to be treated as our family members, and our regulatory environment in Tasmania hasn’t kept up with that”.
“Tasmania hasn’t recognised that animal welfare isn’t just about the animals, it’s about the humans and these are human health and human issues as well as animal ones,” Ms Davis said.
“In other states they’ve moved a lot more quickly to recognise that.
“In Queensland and Victoria and the ACT, the default position in rental legislation is you can have a pet unless the rental tribunal has a specific case that says you can’t for whatever reason.”
The worsening rental crisis has reignited calls to allow pets, with charities such as the RSPCA and the Dogs Home of Tasmania seeing an increase in the number of pets being surrendered.
“Around 15 per cent of dogs that are surrendered to us are solely because their owner has not able to find a rental property,” Dogs Home of Tasmania CEO Michael Sertori said.
“Luckily we are here to find a forever home for that dog, but it’s still unfair and ridiculous in this modern day and age”.
Government willing to consider reform
Despite repeated calls over the years for law reform, the government has said it supported the current provisions of the Residential Tenancy Act, which require the landlord’s approval to have pets in rental properties.
Consumer Affairs Minister Elise Archer said on Sunday it was now willing to review the laws “straight away”.
“This is about balance a lot of the time, but I’m very open to looking at this because I know how it’s important it is for people to have their pets because they are great companions and indeed sometimes, someone’s best friend,” she said.
“Most landlords are very reasonable, I’m very willing to look at this and look at the issue of pet bonds as well.”
Ms Archer said pet bonds would potentially give landlords more confidence regarding pets in their properties.
Michael Sertori said he applauded the minister’s response, saying there had “only been silence up until this point”.
“It’s wonderful that the Tasmanian Government can finally take leadership on this issue, but they need to act quickly because the situation is not getting better, it’s only getting worse,” he said.
Temporary shelter an option
In the meantime, there are several charities which provide support to anyone going through rental stress with their pet in Tasmania or is struggling to afford vet bills and food due to cost-of-living pressures.
RSPCA Tasmania and Dogs Home of Tasmania can provide temporary accommodation for animals if the pet owner needs more time to find a suitable home.
“We have worked with a number of people where we’ve taken the animal into care until they are settled, and then passed their pet back to them,” Ms Davis said.
Dogs Home canine behaviour trainer Michelle Jones urged people to seek help.
“Reach out to your local charities and organisations,” she said.
“There are a lot of us who want to help you and help your dog stay in your home.”